Water and housing dominated Montpelier’s May 10 City Council Meeting, in which councilors heard from the state about its response to Montpelier ‘s water infrastructure challenges. They also heard about complex solutions, spiraling costs, a huge increase in property values, a 16% increase in the water budget plus a raise in water/sewer rates, and passed a homelessness resolution.
Winter Shelter Study and Homelessness Resolution
The council awarded a $16,400 feasibility to gbA Architecture and Planning, a start in getting the Recreation Center at 55 Barre Street in shape as a winter emergency shelter while remaining open for regular programming. City manager Bill Fraser said the only other city-owned property viable as a shelter is the former Elks Club. The city is also communicating locally and regionally with partners for alternative sites and shelter staffing. See full story.
This discussion coincided with approval of the “Homelessness Task Force’s Resolution Response to Motel Emergency Home Exodus” in which the council “commits to developing a plan with neighboring communities to provide resources within our capacity.” Councilors Cary Brown and Tim Heney requested that by the next council meeting a final decision be made about a winter shelter location.
Montpelier Reappraisal Results
City Assessor Marty Lagerstedt provided an overview of the real estate reappraisal conducted by New England Municipal Consultants, Ltd. (NEMC) over the past two years. Property owners were recently mailed notice of their proposed 2023 property value. Information about the audit, including the grand list, tax rate estimate, and other property value information is available on the city auditor’s website montpelier-vt.org/149/Assessor. Several copies of the grand list are also available at city hall.
The grand list has grown $456 million over the past year; approximately 58%, according to Lagerstedt. The new grand list, before grievances, is $1,314,678,600. Councilor Lauren Hierl asked if the increase is a result of a “weird market.” Lagersteadt said he expects the market will remain stable, and the state is considering a rotating reappraisal schedule to add predictability to the process.
How much will taxes go up? According to Fraser, “The budget was approved in March, it’s just going to be redistributed differently… . Roughly, the tax rate will be about half of what it was.” A temporary tax rate estimate calculator is also available on the city website.
See how to start a grievance in “Heard on the Street.”
Water and Sewer Budget
The FY24 projected water budget increased by 16.37%, according to Kurt Motyka, director of public works. That amounts to a $484,872 increase in the nearly $3.5 million budget. Additionally the sewer budget is up 6.2% over last year’s budget, with an increase of $296,862 in the $5 million budget. The council approved the budget, despite some gaps in information.
In the April 20 budget report — with 75% of the fiscal year completed — there was a reported sewer fund net deficit of $232,070. Sewer fund revenues were below budgeted; water resource recovery facility high-strength waste receiving fees were anticipated at $255,000, but yielded only $13,944 or 5.47% of the budgeted amount. The report also showed a water fund net deficit of $412,612.
Water and Sewer Rates Up 6.6%
Ratepayers will see a 6.6% combined water and sewer rate increase starting with the billing period ending Sept. 30 and due Dec. 15. Last year water and sewer rates increased 8.2%, a $117 average annual increase, according to Motyka. This year’s increase adds another $88.92 for the average bill, he said.
Water and Sewer Infrastructure Plan
The master water and sewer infrastructure plan calls for specific amounts of pipe replacements for water and sewer. Moytoka reported that his department is ahead of its target in pipe replacement for both. There are additional state regulations in stormwater regulations and costs related to managing disposal of “urban soils,” soils with specific contaminants. Montpelier has older pipes, which break, which makes the system’s rates relatively high, according to Moytoka. See the full story here.
Chapter 11 Ordinance Amendment Discussion
The Montpelier Police Department has been exploring ways to respond to the police review committee recommendation to terminate the Chapter 11 ordinance, which encompasses a variety of conduct issues, from a 9 p.m. curfew for people under the age of 16, to drinking in public spaces, to noise and litter complaints. Rather than ending the ordinance, the department is considering changing to a civil ticket process, not a civil citation, to address violations.
According to police chief Eric Nordenson, responses to an ordinance violation could include restorative justice and peer support rather than a fine. Barre City and Berlin are trying to develop a similar approach, he said. The council requested a first reading of an amended Chapter 11 ordinance.